Suffering Zoom fatigue? Researchers suggest turning off your camera

TUCSON, Ariz. — Zoom calls and video conferences have become a daily fact of life for millions since COVID-19 arrived. While modern technology has certainly made keeping in touch with business contacts easier during the pandemic, it’s also creating a new phenomenon: Zoom fatigue. Countless workers complain of feeling particularly drained after a day spent on video calls. Interestingly, researchers from the University of Arizona find the camera may be to blame.

Study authors suggest taking a few calls with your camera off to help ward off Zoom fatigue. They say much of the tiredness associated with video calls stems as a result of the pressure that comes with being on camera.

“There’s always this assumption that if you have your camera on during meetings, you are going to be more engaged,” says study leader Allison Gabriel, McClelland Professor of Management and Organizations and University Distinguished Scholar in Arizona’s Eller College of Management, in a university release. “But there’s also a lot of self-presentation pressure associated with being on camera. Having a professional background and looking ready, or keeping children out of the room are among some of the pressures.”

Keep smiling, you’re on camera — constantly

After conducting a four-week experiment including 103 workers and over 1,400 observations, the research team say their findings strongly suggest that leaving one’s camera on during a video call is far more tiring than switching it off.

“When people had cameras on or were told to keep cameras on, they reported more fatigue than their non-camera using counterparts,” Prof. Gabriel explains. “And that fatigue correlated to less voice and less engagement during meetings. So, in reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings.”

It’s worth noting that the yawn-inducing effect of video calls is most prevalent among women and employees new to an organization. This is likely due to both groups feeling extra pressure to look their best.

“Employees who tend to be more vulnerable in terms of their social position in the workplace, such as women and newer, less tenured employees, have a heightened feeling of fatigue when they must keep cameras on during meetings,” Prof. Gabriel adds. “Women often feel the pressure to be effortlessly perfect or have a greater likelihood of child care interruptions, and newer employees feel like they must be on camera and participate in order to show productiveness.”

New work policy: cameras optional?

In summation, study authors believe employers and managers should always give their employees the option to turn their camera off during video calls. Similarly, the notion that leaving one’s camera on during a video chat signifies greater engagement or attention should end.

“At the end of the day, we want employees to feel autonomous and supported at work in order to be at their best. Having autonomy over using the camera is another step in that direction,” Prof. Gabriel concludes.

The study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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